Shades of liberalism

There have been a variety of responses to your remarks on the division of opinion within the Nationalist Party and its sources of inspiration from both the religious and liberal traditions. Why have you not replied to at least those bloggers whose contributions I know you have read attentively?

I have become allergic to express disagreement with critics rather than just mull over their positive ideas. However, I am happy to report to you a comment made by a friend with whom I have just completed a book on clowning.

He referred to my telling you about the occasion when I realised I was not made by Providence to become a professional clown. He reminded me of another occasion when he became convinced that I was by nature a real clown. It was when I had cooked a meal for him and other friends. “The food tasted really funny” was his comment.

Another friend of yours, who also enjoyed telling jokes, was George Borg Olivier. This is the week when he is commemorated. What do you think would have been his position in relation to the current debate about the orientation which the party should take in relation to the religious and the liberal fountainheads of PN ideology?

The former Prime Minister, who had become Leader of the Opposition, only a short while before, at the time when the PN was discussing affiliation to the Christian Democratic Movement, used to have frequent and lengthy conversations with me. He would have found it to be a big joke to counterpoise liberalism with Christianity.

He would have preferred the name of his party to be Liberal rather than Christian Democrat, but not at all because he saw any intrinsic opposition between the two names.

Borg Olivier used to stress that John Locke, generally deemed the founder of Liberalism as a political ideology, claimed that he derived his inspiration from the Epistles of St Paul, on which the English philosopher spent the last years of his life writing a commentary.

Borg Olivier also pointed out that William Gladstone, the icon of the British Liberal Party, devoted as much time and energy to Christian Apologetics as he did to anti conservative politics.

Many even who remember Borg Olivier’s jokes refuse to believe me when I recall his references to the philosophic sources of the Liberalism that he espoused.

He was definitely against Theocracy and for freedom of conscience. But he recognised that the term ‘religio’ in the slogan ‘Religio et Patria’ serve primarily to qualify the nationalism implied in the word patria, so that it was clear that the nationalism in question was not the sort asserted by Nazi or other extreme Right partisans, but was subordinate to the universal human values that were for him as for St Paul the core of Christian revelation.

Nothing would have seemed more absurd to him than to associate liberalism with the heritage of Gerald Strickland and conservatism with that of Fortunato and Enrico Mizzi.

Strickland was actually a Conservative Member of the British Parliament, when their major opponents were the Liberals.

Fortunato Mizzi, although a devout Catholic and one of the first politicians in the world to publish Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, also known as the Workers’ Charter, as his own political standpoint, was deeply distrusted by the bishop of the time.

His son Enrico followed in his footsteps and, in his case, I can testify from personal conversations with him when I was a boy that he was certainly no theocrat or clerico-fascist.

Aren’t the terms Liberal and Conservative being used here neither with reference to British traditions nor to the general meaning of the words, but rather with American usage as background?

Such usage only makes confusion of thought more confounded. I have just been reading the best-selling book Counter Insurgency by General David Petraeus who from Commander in-Chief in Afghanistan has been appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although sub-titled as a military manual, the author, son of a Dutch immigrant, is a Ph.D in International Relations from Princeton and is being mentioned as possibly the only credible challenger to Barack Obama for the presidency.

Stylistically, the book is re-miniscent of Machiavelli’s Prince. The tactical objective of counter-insurgency is defined as being “going to bed in the evening with less enemies than one had on waking”. This result can be obtained either by getting the enemies killed – or converted.

So much of the book is devoted to the “strategic objective” which is acknowledgement of the legitimacy of one’s exercise of power. For this purpose ideology is recognised as important and it is most effectively expressed in the form of narrative.

Appendix B of the book is devoted to Social Networks Analysis, but most attention is given to the works of anthropologists. Two of them, Montgomery McFate and David Kilcullen, advised Petraeus on the writing of the book. Thus Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind of 1973 is treated as a classic. Cultural specialists work alongside combat troops in the US Army.

While in all other areas the model of a business unit has been adopted for analytic purposes, so that passengers on ship, patients in hospital, students at school, spectators at the theatre are now all spoken of as clients, the military is the only sphere in which value is not assessed just in financial terms.

The army has the task of defending the capitalist order but is exempted from the logic of the profit motive. This allows military strategists and only them to think on the same level of Machiavelli and Locke.

I don’t think this key-work is either liberal or conserva-tive, although it is definitely political.

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Miriam Vincenti.


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